Oregon State won its fifth straight Pac-12 Championship, edging host Arizona State, 118-113, in the six-team field. The Beavers, ranked 22nd in the last USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll, had one champion and qualified five for the NCAA Championships in two weeks.
OSU heavyweight Amarveer Dhesi, a sophomore from Canada, was named the tournament’s Outstanding Wrestler after beating Stanford’s Nathan Butler, 17-5, in the finals. The sophomore had two pins prior to his win over Butler.
“It is not easy winning five straight,” said OSU head coach Jim Zalesky, who has led the Beavers to seven Pac-12 titles in his 10 years in Corvallis. “This one was really a dogfight. We needed every win and point we could earn. I think we scored some bonus points that helped us get the win.
“The teams are getting better, Arizona State and Stanford have gotten better. It is not easy, so you can’t take them for granted. Every time it’s the Pac-12 tournament, you know you are going to have to wrestle to win and I think we did.”
One of eight NCAA qualifiers, the Pac-12 was given 21 allocations. Arizona State had three champions led by two-time champion Blake Stauffer (184) and qualified six for New York City. Stanford had four and Boise State and Bakersfield will each send three. Stanford 165-pounder Jim Wilson and Bakersfield 174-pounder Bryce Hammond each won their third Pac-12 title. Stanford freshman Joey McKenna claimed his first league crown.
Speaking of allocations
The Big Ten, with eight teams ranked inside the last USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll, lead the pack with 71 allocations. Two weight classes, 133 and 174, earned nine spots. Five Big Ten wrestlers are ranked No. 1 entering the postseason: Penn State’s Zain Retherford (26-0 at 149), Jason Nolf (26-0 at 157), Bo Nickal (26-1 at 174), and Morgan McIntosh (25-0 at 197), plus Ohio State 2015 NCAA champion Nathan Tomasello (17-0 at 125).
The Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) earned 51 spots with the Mid-American (MAC) at 41 and the new-look Big 12 Conference at 36. The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) gets 34 with the Eastern Wrestling League (17) and the Southern Conference (13) rounding out the qualifiers.
There are 284 NCAA spots available this weekend. An additional 46 wrestlers will be chosen by the NCAA Division I Wrestling Committee on March 9. Each bracket in New York City will consist of 33 entries.
New-look Big 12
This time last year questions circulated about the status of the Big 12 and its four competing schools. Was the Big 12 a qualifier? If wrestlers did not compete in a qualifying tournament could they earn an at-large berth to the NCAA Championships? Big 12 coaches addressed the situation following the 2014-15 season, merging with the Western Wrestling Conference/West Regional to form a new league that has its inaugural postseason event this Saturday and Sunday in Kansas City.
“This has been in the works for a while,” said Oklahoma State head coach John Smith. “It is something that needed to be addressed and I think everyone involved likes the new arrangement. It is also a two-day event, gives you a two-day weigh-in.”
Oklahoma State owns 12 conference titles (the league opened in 1997), including the last three. The Cowboys join Iowa State, Oklahoma, West Virginia, plus the WWC squads: Air Force, North Dakota State, Northern Colorado, South Dakota State, Utah Valley, and Wyoming. Four Big 12 squads enter this weekend inside the top 20 with OSU at No. 5, Oklahoma at No. 11, Iowa State at No. 17, and South Dakota State at No. 21.
“It’s going to help our kids prepare for the NCAA Tournament,” said Wyoming head coach Mark Branch last spring. “They’re going to have a better avenue to prepare for the NCAA Tournament. We’re going to have a two-day tournament. You’re going to get five, six, seven matches as opposed to now where you might only get two matches.”
A year ago, the WWC earned 19 allocations with four weight classes taking only the champion. North Dakota State had the WWC’s two All-Americans with Hayden Zilmer, 27-3 this season, expected to be the top seed in Kansas City this weekend. The Big 12 had seven All-Americans including champions Cody Brewer of Oklahoma, Alex Dieringer of Oklahoma State, and Kyven Gadson of Iowa State. Brewer (16-2) and Dieringer (25-0) are back.
The brutal Big Ten
The Big Ten has five of the top 10 teams according to the latest USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll. Penn State enters the postseason as the team to beat and will get an antagonistic crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena this weekend for the conference meet. Six Nittany Lions are ranked fourth or better with Retherford, Nolf, Nickal, and McIntosh all No. 1. Three-time All-American Nico Megaludis (23-2 at 125) and All-Americans Jordan Conaway (22-3 at 133) and Jimmy Gulibon (10-7 at 141) give PSU head coach Cael Sanderson a powerful punch.
Iowa dropped its final dual of the season, but should provide plenty of pushback on its home mats. All-Americans Thomas Gilman (20-0 at 125), Cory Clark (17-1 at 133), Brandon Sorensen (22-0 at 149), and Nathan Burak (19-1 at 197) lead the Hawks, who own 35 Big Ten Championship trophies including last season’s tie with Ohio State.
“We have a team with guys who like to score points and bonus points,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said after his team’s loss to North Carolina State last Monday. “Getting knocked off here, I don’t think that’s a major issue. I think our guys are up for a challenge and they better be.”
Ohio State, Michigan, and Rutgers also check in among the nation's top 10.
Every weight class provides NCAA, Friday and Saturday-level matchups including 125, 149, and 157 pounds. Tomasello and Gilman are ranked 1-2 at 125 and are a combined 37-0; Sorensen and Retherford are a combined 48-0 at 149; Nolf and 2015 NCAA champion Isaiah Martinez of Illinois are 47-1 with Martinez’s lone loss coming to Nolf in a dual meet.
The ACC has two teams inside the top five (North Carolina State and Virginia Tech) and three in the top 15 (North Carolina is No. 14). They are expected to battle for league honors Sunday in Charlottesville, Virginia, at the one-day ACC Championships. Tech (16-1) finished its dual season with wins over NC State (23-1) and Michigan, while the Wolfpack beat Iowa in Iowa City.
A preview of the NCAA finals could be in order at 285 pounds where two-time NCAA champion Nick Gwiazdowski (26-0) of NCSU and Tech’s Ty Walz (22-1) could square off. Three of the top 141-pounders in the country call the ACC home ― NCSU’s Kevin Jack (20-3), Tech’s Soloman Chishko (25-3), and North Carolina’s Joey Ward (16-3), who gave Oklahoma State’s Dean Heil his only loss in 25 matches this season.
Tech, ACC champions in 2013 and 2014 and third a year ago, finished 10th at the 2015 NCAA Championships. NCSU qualified just three for the 2015 NCAA meet after finishing sixth at the 2015 ACCs. Virginia was tops in the ACC last March.
• Cornell had five champions and won its ninth-straight EIWA title last March. This weekend at Princeton the Big Red will go for No. 10, squaring off with a Lehigh squad that beat Cornell in a dual meet during the regular season. Lehigh has won 34 EIWA crowns, 11 better than Cornell. Yale won the first six league titles, including the first in 1905. Harvard is the only squad besides LU and CU to win a title since 2000; the Crimson won in 2001.
• Fourteen wrestlers enter the postseason unbeaten, including Ohio State’s Kyle Snyder (3-0), who won a World Championship in freestyle last fall. Six weight classes have at least two with unblemished records (125, 133, 149, 157, 165, 285) with two (125, 149) possibly going head-to-head this weekend at the Big Tens.
• Missouri won the 2012 Big 12 title, its last in the Big 12 before joining the MAC. The Tigers have dominated the MAC, winning the last three league crowns; they enter this weekend’s meet in Ypsilanti, Michigan, one of four ranked inside the top 20. MU is No. 6 with Kent State (15), Central Michigan (19), and Ohio (20) having good regular seasons. Kent State All-American Ian Miller (19-0 at 157) and 2014 NCAA champion J’Den Cox (21-1 at 197) lead a field that has 41 allocations. Prior to Missouri’s arrival, Central Michigan won 11 straight MAC titles.
• Lock Haven hosts the Eastern Wrestling League Championships where 17 can earn berths to New York City. Edinboro won its second straight EWL title last March and is expected to battle Rider for top honors this weekend.
• The Southern Conference earned 13 allocations with 157 and 285 pounds the only weight classes where more than the champion qualifies for the NCAA Championships. Chattanooga has dominated the league, winning its 29th SoCon title a year ago and 10th in 11 seasons. The Mocs and Appalachian State each finished the regular season at 12-4 and will be the teams to beat in Asheville, North Carolina.